Colorado Water Workshop: John Salazar — ‘Demand worldwide for food has outstripped supply’

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“As long as agricultural water is cheap and inexpensive, ag dry-up will continue, but it’s not good for agriculture, it’s not good for the state, and it’s sure as hell not good for the Western Slope,” Salazar told the Colorado Water Workshop.

The summer workshop, now in its 36th year, annually focuses attention on state water issues. This year’s three-day program at Western State College focuses on risk, opportunities and leadership, and about 150 participants are signed up.

Demand for agricultural products in Colorado increased 323 percent in the first quarter of 2011, Salazar said. “Agriculture is in the driver’s seat,” Salazar said. “Demand worldwide for food has outstripped supply.”[…]

“Much of the future electrical generation will happen in the Southwestern U.S. and will occur in areas already stressed by water demands,” said Tom Iseman, program director for water policy with the Western Governors Association. The group represents 19 states and is developing studies to understand the water needs of new energy development. “We have to consider the economic trade-offs of land and water transfers,” Iseman said…

“We are not generating enough young farmers,” [Pat O’Toole, president of the Family Farm Alliance] said. “How are we going to produce enough food with less farmers, less water and less farmland?”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“We’re a nation that is frankly spoiled by food prices — less than 10 percent of income is spent on food,” Bill Trampe, a Gunnison rancher told the Colorado Water Forum on Thursday. “As food prices rise, it’s going to be interesting to see how consumers react. Will we save enough acres to provide food in the future?”[…]

Dan Henrichs, an Avondale rancher and superintendent of the High Line Canal, said water transfers already have devastated parts of the Arkansas Valley. “The Arkansas basin is the poster child of how not to do transfers,” Henrichs said. The answer is to keep agriculture healthy through temporary sales of water through leases rather than large-scale dry-ups…

He downplayed concerns about water leases drying up the valley, since there is not enough infrastructure to move most of it. At the same time, the price of water has increased because of past water sales and leases. Farmland on the High Line Canal is selling for $7,500 per acre, up from $3,000 an acre prior to the Aurora lease. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is paying $10,150 per share (which irrigates one acre) on the Bessemer Ditch…

The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, which would pool water rights on several canals to market to meet other water needs, is one of the potential solutions, and will launch a pilot program next year with a 500 acre-foot lease to El Paso County communities.

In the Colorado River basin, groups are looking at a water bank program that would curtail older water rights as a way to potentially meet a compact call, Trampe said.

More Colorado water coverage here.

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